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CCA's Stanford to co-chair state trafficking task force

Friday, 22 November 2013 08:00 // 1446
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by Dwain Hebda 
Associate Editor

The International Labor Organization says there are nearly 21 million people worldwide who are victims of modern slavery. Reagan Stanford, crime victims services coordinator for Catholic Charities of Arkansas, said there are no reliable statistics gathered for how many victims are in the state.

 

According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, these statistics were gathered on human trafficking in the state since 2007.

  • 83 tips and crisis calls were made
  • 384 total calls to hotline

Reagan Stanford, crime victims services coordinator for Catholic Charities of Arkansas’ immigration services, has been named co-chair of a new statewide task force focusing on preventing human trafficking and raising awareness about the issue in Arkansas.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel made the announcement at a Nov. 6 press conference.

Stanford previously worked in law enforcement, having come to her role at Catholic Charities from the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department. She has been in her current role for the past four years. During the 2013 legislative session, she worked behind the scenes on what would ultimately pass as The Human Trafficking Act of 2013, which beefed up existing human trafficking laws in the state.

Thirty-eight other states also passed trafficking legislation this year. The Polaris Project says Arkansas strengthened its laws the most after the organization said in 2012 it was one of the worst states for trafficking laws. The Arkansas law expanded the definition of human trafficking and makes it a felony, punishable by up to 40 years or life in prison. The law also allows for the seizure of traffickers’ assets and requires the hotline number for the National Human Trafficking Resource Center be posted.

“It was very clear to us that Reagan, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say it, is the expert in Arkansas on the human trafficking issue,” said Will Jones, assistant attorney general and the other co-chair of the task force. “When we started considering people and asking around, her name was the one that came up over and over and over and when you have a group this large, you have to have someone everyone respects.”

The task force, which was created by a provision in The Human Trafficking Act, is comprised of 40 individuals from local, state and federal law enforcement, U.S. Secret Service, governor’s office, Departments of Human Services and Labor and a host of nonprofit entities, advocacy organizations and shelters.

The broad scope of the members’ backgrounds underscores how complicated dealing with human trafficking crimes can be.

“What’s supposed to come out of the task force will be some general suggestions for the next General Session. Training and awareness are the biggest things,” Stanford said. “The law’s not very effective if we don’t create the infrastructure in Arkansas to be able to serve victims.”

Jones and Stanford both said issue education was the immediate goal for the task force to examine. Ignorance of the scope of the issue extends beyond the general population to the very people best positioned to identify victims of human trafficking.

“The issue is one people are still not that familiar with, or they think it’s a big city issue or something that happens in a Liam Neeson movie and not here,” Jones said. “I, myself, have a background a prosecutor, and I’ll be the first to admit I was not aware of the problem until I started working on the issue.”

According to the latest statistics from the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, there were 105 calls made from Arkansas to the NHTRC hotline between January and June 2013. Of the total calls, just 13 were deemed high or moderate probability of a human trafficking situation.

Stanford said the problem is certainly more widespread, but one of the biggest problems the issue has suffered is an inability to gather hard data. This is because authority figures, primarily law enforcement, either don’t know what to look for or erroneously categorize cases as prostitution busts, for instance, instead of human trafficking.

“If you pull a car over on a traffic stop and you find drugs in the car, they’re usually not laying on the back seat, but let’s say they are,” Stanford said. “That person’s probably going to go to jail. But if you pull a car over for a traffic stop and it’s a 35-year-old-male and two 17-, 18-, 19-year-old-girls sitting in the back, most likely they’re going to get a traffic ticket and keep going. Because most likely (the police are) not even looking for it.”

Stanford uses this very analogy in the many training sessions for law enforcement she has conducted statewide. She said it isn’t that officers or other officials are unwilling to enforce the law; it’s that they aren’t yet conditioned to look for red flags.

“Anytime an officer or even a social service provider comes upon a scene, even if subconsciously they are going through the list of things in their head, ‘Do I see signs of this this and this,’ if human trafficking is added to that, then they will be looking for those signs without even realizing it,” she said.

Jones said while much has to be worked out as to the structure and workings of the group, his expectation is to be able to provide lawmakers with the task force’s findings late next year, in advance of the legislative session in 2015.

 

Last modified on Friday, 22 November 2013 08:00
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